The 1970’s marked the end of many railways, but it began a passion for collecting railway memorabilia for one local man. This grew into plans to establish a permanent, public railway display in Sharbot Lake. Ironically, it was this man, Gary Cooke who was amongst the men hired by the CPR in 1970 to dismantle the K & P and turn the old track bed into what has now become part of the Ontario Trails system.
This fascination led to his saving the “junk” which was being thrown away as the dismantling continued. Once this dismantling was complete, Gary worked in the maintenance yards in Smiths Falls. Later he joined an extra gang taking out crossings and track between Montreal and Chalk River. His collection grew, and soon the other men realized he was onto something and would be on the lookout for items of interest to him.
Around 1978, Gary moved on to a section crew, repairing tracks, doing maintenance, and building crossings between Smiths Falls and Oshawa. His collection continued to grow, and not only that, he knew how everything worked.
On his retirement from CPR in 2000, Gary’s focus on collecting changed to a desire to see many of his items housed in a permanent setting. In talking to local people, the idea of rebuilding the old station in Sharbot Lake was born. Local newspaper coverage of Gary’s collection as well as support from old “railway men” showed that there was a real interest in this, so a committee was struck to spearhead the project.
On April 11th, 2000, the North Frontenac News editor, David Brison, reported, “Gary Cooke, 49, from Sharbot Lake worked for CPR for 29 years. For most of that time he collected railway items. He has assembled an amazing collection that rivals the Smiths Falls Museum. He retired from CPR in February 2000 and hopes one day to set up a railway museum. He’d like to get an old railway station to display the collection and thinks that a good location would be in Sharbot Lake.”
This collection is what you will see when you visit the Railway Historical Park in Sharbot Lake.
Gary remains actively involved in the committee through membership drives and fundraising; and provides the rest of us with the inspiration to continue with the task that he pioneered.
So thank you Gary, for your vision, your persistence, your enthusiasm and your hard work. You have inspired others to become involved and to dream along with you.